Edition 21: Book Review: SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest edited by Brown/Spedding
Reviewed by Damien Smith
SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest is the fourth instalment of the SNAFU military horror anthology series from Cohesion Press, due for release very soon. Having not read the preceding offerings, I went in with no preconceptions and was smacked firmly in the face by a strong and varied collection of monsters and military might.
The collection as a whole flowed well, but each and every story in here is worthy of a mention:
First off is Badlands by S.D. Perry. The opening line of this story sets a tone for the entire collection. What follows is a dark and action-filled story of Korean War veterans facing down the impossible in the form of badder-than-usual zombies. An appropriately unsettling start.
Of Storms and Flame by Tim Marquitz & J. M. Martin caught me off guard and made me realise that military horror is not just modern, as we are thrust back to a Viking invasion gone awry with the mighty Bard and his companions set against magic and monsters.
Alan Baxter brings us modern-day Kandahar with In Vaulted Halls Entombed, but rather than another warriors versus monsters offering (although there is some of that) this is more of a game of cat and mouse with a terrorist going horribly wrong. Opposing forces stumble on to a Lovecraftian cosmic horror deep in the bowels of the earth. A brief epilogue suggests there is, or should be, more to come to this story.
Back to Vietnam in They Own the Night by B. Michael Radburn. This time there is a very unexpected group of antagonists caught out of time on the far side of the Earth. I predicted, but also enjoyed the method of final escape and subsequent epilogue.
Fallen Lion by Jack Hanson threw me completely. Here we have the only clearly futuristic setting where dinosaurs have been resurrected and made into weapons of war. While it felt overly complex with names and factions and a bit too much information download, I felt there’s the opportunity for a whole universe of stories opening up here. Plus there are intelligent dinosaurs with heavy firepower!
Back to the modern day, Kirsten Cross’ Sucker of Souls finds a group of mercenaries guarding an archaeological party exploring an ancient castle. Given the title, I don’t think it’ll be a great spoiler to reveal the fact that they release a vampire who subsequently hunts them all. The occasional point of view narrative from the vampire, and a real sense of ancient myth versus modern firepower made this my favourite piece in the collection.
Cold War Gothic II: The Bohemian Grove by Weston Ochse brings us to 1970s alternative Earth where governments must contend with supernatural attacks from other nations, in what felt like a slightly scarier precursor to cyber warfare. The longest piece in the collection, this felt, at least until the final scene, more like a noir mystery than a military conflict. While it stood apart from the other stories in this sense, it was an effective change of pace.
A very short mash up of zombies meets the blob, meets Aliens-esque doomed military foray came next in After the Red Rain Fell by Matt Hilton. While brief, some of the imaging and feeling of widespread, impending doom from this one stayed with me.
The penultimate piece, Neal F. Litherland The Slog returns to Vietnam where rumours circle across units of a mysterious place known only as “The Slog” where horrendous crimes, rites and possibly medical experiments occur. Naturally, the lone survivor of an ambush finds himself wandering right through the middle of the place. I still don’t quite know what to make of what follows, only that it was horrible and surreal, with some really unpleasant imagery. Just what any good horror collection needs.
To cap off the collection, Show of Force by Jeremy Robinson & Kane Gilmour brings back the Chess Team, elite military unit who come equipped with their own series of novels and novellas. While I’ve not read any of the series, this short had no problem standing alone. It pits the Chess Team against a hidden terrorist base somewhere in an isolated corner of Mongolia. This was a more traditional slug-fest-with-unlikely-stunts than any of the other stories in the collection, so slightly more predictable for it, but still a great deal of fun. It especially won points with me for pitting the team against one of my favourite cryptids.
I’ve not read an anthology purely dedicated to military horror before. I did like the variation of mighty soldiers either obliterating mythical beasties or powerless to stop them. This story comes with a high body count, which is not unsurprising, and not so many happy endings as some romantics might like. This meant, with very few exceptions, story endings were unpredictable and rarely pleasant.
What didn’t I like? I don’t know…that they were scary? While I don’t like writing reviews where I just sing praises, there is really not a lot outside of a couple of my comments against individual stories. It’s probably not something to read to the young kiddies, but as a horror anthology it offers a variety of work despite the seemingly narrow focus. I’ve read far more visceral horror, but me still being able to sleep after reading this collection is far from a negative.
SNAFU: Survival of the fittest is the impending latest book in the SNAFU series from Cohesion Press. It is now available on pre-order, as an ebook 31st of August or limited edition in October (http://cohesionpress.com/pre-orders/snafu-survival-pre-orders/).
SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest (eds. Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding)
Cohesion Press, 2015
To be published in August 2015
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.